Using Hallin's (1994) analysis of soundbites in network television news coverage as a model, we track the quoting practices of five American newspapers during the transition to modern news (1876–1916). We find that despite variation in the size, geographic location, and partisan orientation of these newspapers, trends in their quoting practices moved in relative lockstep. Drawing on the institutionalist concept of path dependency, we argue that these patterns are not consistent with an economic explanation of the transition to modern news. Rather, we suggest that political change—specifically, the breakdown of the third party system in 1896, served as a “critical juncture” in the transition to modern news. Overall, we argue that detailed analysis of newsgathering practices coupled with an institutional approach may allow historians to trace the timing, sequence and explanation of historical change in journalism in finer detail.